Christmas Count 2020: a tradition that makes a lot of sense in Ecuador

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In years past, Christmas time wasn’t the easiest time of year for birds, especially in the United States. Whoever owned a shotgun went out seeking to bring back something plump to serve for Christmas. But the tradition evolved into something much more sinister: a competition to see who returned with the most dead birds. Pheasants, wild turkeys, partridges, ducks… or anything with wings, for that matter: a great party for the hunters (not so much for the birds)!

Tens of thousands of birds would be hunted down every Christmas. Groups of people divided up into teams in many towns and areas across the country and took aim to the sky and the trees seeking to tally as many feathered creatures as possible. The well-known Christmas “Side Hunt” raged its ‘war’ against bird communities across America like few activities in History.

Exchanging shotguns for binoculars… one of the Christmas Count’s legacies. (PH: Jorge Vinueza)

Deeply affected by the mere existence of such an event, ornithologist Frank Chapman, back in 1900, proposed a twist: instead of killing all those birds, why not count them. Conservation was obviously not much of a thing back then. But Chapman’s vision of counting the live birds (instead of the dead ones), stuck… And today, the Side Hunt is very much a thing from the past, while the Christmas Count is growing into a full-blown Christmas tradition throughout the world.

Ecuador, the Christmas count of Christmas counts

The Christmas count is celebrating 120 years since Chapman first proposed it as a conservation event for Audobon Society, and Ecuador is, once again, ready to tally up its birds.

The ‘tradition’ here is much more recent. Yet, it is really a tradition… and an important one. Ecuador is actually the country that has registered the most species every year for more than a decade. Every year new iconic bird counting sites are added. Each place decides a day when it will carry out its count (around Christmas, of course), while more and more people every year set out to count as many species (and as many individuals of every species) as they can. Ecuador’s counting sites always come back with the highest numbers worldwide.

Surpassing Christmas count numbers in the United States by a lot, Ecuador has become ‘the’ country for this birding activity.

The following is a list of the most important Christmas count sites within the country and when they’ll be taking place.

1) Mindo-Tandayapa — December 19 (for seven years in a row it clinched the highest species count worldwide)
2) Cosanga-Narupa — December 18, 19, 20 (became a serious contender, surpassing Mindo-Tandayapa in recent years).
4) Quijos-El Chaco — January 8, 9, 10
5) Añangu (Napo Wildlife Center) — December 19
6) Nuevo Rocafuerte — December 26
7) Loma Alta Community Forest (Santa Elena) – December 20
8) Los Bancos-Milpe — December 26

Additionally, the following are other bird counts that have gained traction in recent years: Copalinga, Buenaventura, Coca-Yasuní, Tambococha, Shiripuno, Morona-Taisha, Morona-Gualaquiza, Morona-Río Upano, Morona-Sucúa, Morona-Macas, Limón-Indanza, Cumandá-Chimorazo.

Check out this map for counting sites registered by the Audobon Society in the Americas.

Cover photo: Murray Cooper (Saffron finches)

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